Life after exams

14 Jul

After finishing my exam and having to wait for 4 weeks before I get the result, I am finding a life again. For the last 6 week to 2 months, I have been constantly preoccupied every evening trying to fit as many ridiculously long German words into my tiny brain and trying to figure out which prepositions go with which verb, that I had completely forgotten the sheer joy of not having anything specifically to do and now I have a list as long as my arm of things that I would like to do while I have a small break from lessons as well as exam stress.

As a side note on the subject of exam revision: there is a funny juxtaposition between the stress of learning for an exam, while having the realisation that there is no way that you will be able to learn absolutely everything so what is the point? in the back of your mind.

So now I have nothing specific to do and this has begun to stress me out a bit. I always feel a bit guilty if I sit around and do nothing and “relax” a bit. There is always something that could be done or something that you can see and doing the opposite, seems to me, to be a waste of time.

For example, I decided to watch a film last week. One was starting on Film 4. It was an Eddie Murphy film that I had never heard of and it was an easy-to-understand, kind of a feel good movie. At the end of it though, I felt a bit disappointed that I had spent 2 hours of my life, watching a not particularly great film, when I could have been cleaning the flat or doing something else productive.

Having said that, I have also spent a good deal of time watching this year’s Wimbledon and I haven’t felt an ounce of guilt. I could easily take a two week holiday to watch the tournament every year but because it is always at the beginning of July, I wouldn’t be able to because it’s our busiest time of the month at work.

I decided to bake a Raspberry Pavlova last week just because I had time to and I can’t remember the last time that I baked something. Transporting a delicate baked goods in the train was a bit tricky and I was so nervous that I was going to end up with an Eton Mess by the time that I made it into the office that I was guarding it like a sickly child. I had to stop myself from shouting out, “Please stand clear! I have a Pavlova and if anything happens to it, I will not be responsible for my actions!” It arrived intact much to the delight of my colleagues. I would go so far as to say that delight doesn’t even cover it. People were asking if it was my birthday, why I had made it and telling me what a lovely person I was for making it and bringing it in. Good God! I think this is the most praise I have ever received at work in my whole career and I am seriously considering the option of jacking it all in and taking up baking as a profession. The appreciation and praise is immediate and not just once a year in a job appraisal!

Yesterday I finally met up for lunch with a friend who I have not seen for a long time. We met 2 years ago at our first day in the company on the Induction Day and since then we have met up regularly for lunch. It is always nice with her because I feel like I am meeting up with a friend that I have known for years and years. Never any stress at all. Even though I am English and she is Irish, we have still never made it to the pub for a few drinks. In fairness, I am a bit worried that it will be a dangerous night if she gets me going on the Guinness. We have promised to recify that soon.

In the evening, I went to see Despicable Me 3 (in German Ich – Einfach unverbesserlich which really trips off the tongue doesn’t it?) with some friends. It was not as good as the first two films I think but was really entertaining. It’s definitely a film that helps you switch you brain off and have a good belly laugh. I can’t remember the last time I went to the cinema and I had forgotten how much I like the whole cinema experience. Shame it is so bloody expensive!

Later today my mum arrives for a two week stay. She seems to always come when the weather is not so great but I am hopeful that this time the weather will be better. A few of the girls at hockey training were complaining the other weather about parents coming to stay because they have to keep them entertained. I, on the other hand, like it. It means that I can save up things that I would like to do myself and then drag my mum along to come with me – whether she likes it or not. We have a few things planned and I am sure that you will hear about what we get up to if you check back here soon. Fingers crossed that the weather stays fine…

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Washing dilemmas

12 Jul

A friend brought a BBC news article to my attention this morning. In it, it is reported that there has been a huge backlash on Twitter about comments that Kirstie Allsopp made about the correct placement of washing machines in house. Apparently the British have been doing in wrong all along. Kitchens are not the place for a washing machine.

I have never thought about this before but it is only Brits, who typically have their washing machine in the kitchen. In American films always show the family laundry being done in a separate room well away from the kitchen. Apart from in Uncle Buck where the eponymous hero attempts to dry the socks in the microwave because he can’t work out how to use the tumble dryer.

Washing clothes in a room where you prepare food does have some unhygienic twists to it: both as the dirty clothes are going in and the clear ones are coming out. No one ever wipes down the surfaces are dirty washing has been sitting on the counter top before loading the machine. Well, perhaps no one who has been diagnosed with OCD.

In Switzerland, washing machines and the regulations of using them is where all the upstanding virtuous that you expect of the Land of Milk and Money are effortlessly turfed out of the window. The majority of washing machines are located in the basement, especially in older buildings. Of course, it is forbidden to washing during the night and on Sundays or public holiday. This rule is strictly enforced.

In order to wash, one of three things could happen: 1) you have a designated day to wash on and it’s obligatory that you only wash on this day; 2) you have to “register” by signing on to a rota in advance, and by advance I mean that sometime people sign up for a day 6 months in advance; 3) there is no signing up so everything is a free-for-all, which is problematic when you are single living in a house full of families, who are constantly washing and you can never find a time to casually slip your clothes in. This happened to me at my last apartment. Being one day from going into the office in tracksuit bottoms is not a great place to be.

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Woe betide anyone who uses the wrong day, forgets to register or is 5 minutes late taking the load out of the washing machine. I have heard reports of clean clothes thrown on the floor, washing cycles being stopped half way through and then the half-dirt, half-clean clothes thrown onto the dirty floor. I have also heard of people plotting to revenge neighbours when they have retaliated like this. I’m talking itching powder in underwear type revenge.

Luckily, I have never experienced this first hand and it seems that the machine is normally free when I need it. I just have to trundle down the stairs to get my clothes clean. Of course, I have no idea what my neighbours are putting into the machine and it does make me wince a bit when I think that other people’s dirty is circuling around and mixing it with my clothes that I am trying to get clean.

One option might be to put the machine on 90 degrees and get rid of all the bad bacteria. However, as I found out the hard way, hockey socks don’t wash well at this temperature. They are so small that I can’t get them over my shin pads anymore. Looks like they are heading for the bin. Can you imagine if I did this with all of my clothes? I am not sure if it would be a good thing or a bad thing. On the one hand, it would be an excuse for why some of my clothes are a little bit snugger than they should be. On the other hand, I will be back to contemplating the acceptability of wearing tracksuit bottoms into the office.

I am remaining adement that the next apartment is new and has it’s own washing machine. So long as it is not in the kitchen…

Finally it’s over…

10 Jul

On Saturday it was time to put the books away and just go for it. Too late to look at any more vocabulary lists or verb tables now – it was D-Day (Deutsch-Day). 

I was disappointed that the weather was completely glorious and that I would be spending the whole day cooped up in an exam room, wracking my brain to remember how to spell things while the weather outside was like this…


Not in the least bit fair, eh?

I arrived early at the exam centre and it was easy to find from the train station. I noticed one of the other candidates must be 60, if she was a day. I’m not sure that I will be still doing language exams at that age. If I am, you have permission to slap me in the face as hard as you can.

The first part of the exam was reading which is by far my favourite part of the exam. Partly because I enjoy reading and I have tried to develop the habit of reading German as much as possible over the past few months. So I find it a little bit easier than the other parts. The section was nothing that I hadn’t expected which was a nice surprise. Although there were some tricky parts, overall it went well. 

Next up was listening. Again it’s not a section that I particularly loathe but it was a bit tricky. When I had answered the questions, I realised on the multiple choice question that I had few too few Cs for me to have got 100% but maybe I’m reading too much into it!

Next up was the writing. Again a part that I find relatively straight forward. I had to write about fairy tales. I couldn’t think of any names of fairly tales in German so I just said I was a fan of the Brothers Grimm stories which, I hope, will not count against me. If it doesn’t, I am happy with my creativity of getting out of a potentially sticky situation.

So then I had a lovely 4 hour break before my speaking part began. I met a friend and we sat by the lake in the sun for a few hours. This was great because it really took my mind off the rest of the exam. I really hate the speaking test. I feel so self-conscious and it’s very obvious if you mess this part up. It’s not just the examiners that you are speaking with but also a fellow candidate. It’s potentially really embarrassing if you forget what to say or get a bit tongue tied.

I had to talk about the topic of reducing the voting age to 16. I managed to talk about Brexit and how this sort of issue impacts more young people in the long term. I finished by saying the issues are too complex for people so young to comprehend and that there must be other ways for them to be engaged in political thinkings. Then I had to discuss with the other candidate about three pictures on the topic “Your Friend – the animal”. These parts of the exam are always daft. The topics are sometimes really vague and it’s difficult to know what to say. Luckily I had had plenty of practice with the other half, so it ended up not being so bad.

Would you believe the moment I finished the exam and stepped out of the exam centre that the heavens opened? Typical, just typical! Even so I managed to go out and have a few drinks to celebrate.

I just had a 4 week wait now until I get my result. I will hopefully be able to share some good news with you soon….

Anti- Stress solution?

5 Jul

Because I’m not getting any younger and I probably should take more care of myself than I actually do, I booked myself in for a Thai massage last night after work. I am slowly creeping up to a birthday that ends in a nought (but aren’t we all?) so it might be time to take preventative action and make positive steps.

For those of you who regularly read my blog, you will know that I first tried Thai massage in Thailand earlier this year. As I had so many things to do, I ran out of time and had to have a quick upper body massage at the airport. Last night was the whole hog.

The thing that I like most about Thai massage is that you remain fully clothed. I’ve had other massages before and I really can’t stand the vulnerability of being half-naked in a darkened room with a stranger. When I arrived some comfortable clothes were laid out for me. The practitioner quickly realised I wasn’t going to fit into the aforementioned clothes and went to get me new ones. I’m pretty sure they were men’s trousers and they were massive on me. One more motivation to help me lose weight to add to the list. 

Thai people look small but then they are manipulating and stretching your body, they are surprisingly strong. I can only describe the feeling as being a bit like when a toddler or young child decides to walk over you instead of around you because they haven’t yet realised that when you put your full weight on someone it hurts. Elbows, legs and arms everywhere! At one point when she grabbed my neck to massage it, it reminded me of fighting with my brother as a kid and him grabbing my neck so I couldn’t fight back.


It’s probably not recommended to be reminiscing of childhood play fights while someone is treating to realign your body’s energy. On this part, I need more practice at this.

It is said that the massage should be leave the practitioner and the client energised after the massage. I certainly felt a lot better, even though I also felt I had just done 10 rounds with a Mini Mike Tyson. I was thinking how can the practitioner possibly feel energised after this really physical procedure? I think she probably felt great about beating up a person who is twice her size and getting paid for it.

In an age where our lives are dominated by stress, it is important to find methods of relaxing. It turns out that for me this could be someone standing on my back while pulling my arms up to the sky. 

The Art of Escapism

4 Jul

In the past week I have attempted no fewer than 3 escape rooms. If you don’t know what an escape room is, then where have you been hiding? An escape room is a live adventure game which involves between 2 and 6 people being “locked” into a room and a series of puzzles need to be solved in order for the group to escape within a 60 minute time limit. I have put locked in quotation marks because there is always a way to get out quickly from the room if there is an emergency of any sort.

I began on Tuesday with a Prison Break escape room. This was a bit risky from the start because I didn’t know the people that I was meeting. I had come across this activity on the internet platform MeetUp. (This is basically a forum, where people can set up groups and activities so that anyone who is interested is free to join). If you know me, you will know that I really don’t have the patience for people making stupid suggestion and there were more than a few. The beauty of these games is that no specialist knowledge required. Everything that you need to escape the room is in the room. You have to solve puzzles and riddles. It reminds me of the Crystal Maze game which was on UK TV in the 1990s, but instead of an individual having to work alone to solve riddles, there is a team working together.

Part of the problem with playing this game was that we were 6 people. I think this is far too many people. It’s a too-many-chiefs-and-not-enough-Indians type of situation. People are looking at riddles that have already been solved and you have the same discussions with different people about the same thing which is time consuming and means that not everyone is up to speed on with the actual progress of the game. I felt like I did contribute the most – I unlocked a safe by using a code in braille within 2 minutes and I am still feeling a little bit smug about it.

The second game I did was with two good friends of mine and the room was called Steps. I am not sure why it was called Steps. The only logical reason I can think of is that you have to logically work through the steps of the puzzle to get the key and get out. But surely isn’t that the aim of all the games. I was a little bit disappointed that there were no references to the hugely popular pop group Steps in the room. Having said that, I am not sure that their influence has yet made it to Switzerland. Probably for the best.

I enjoyed playing this game because, as the game unfolded, it was clear that our individual strengths were all slightly different. By that I mean that what was instantly clear to one person was not to the others so it meant that we were able to make our way quickly through the puzzles without too much of a hold up.

This was the first escape room that I have ever escape without any help at all. Basically, if you get stuck on a certain puzzle, you can call or walkie-talkie a member of staff and ask them for help. As the game last only an hour and you have no idea how many puzzle there are ahead of you, being able to take a clue can be a huge help. This time we didn’t need it! And we escaped in 47 minutes! It wasn’t a record by a long shot. The record for this room was 28 minutes. I have no idea how people manage to do it so quickly because I thought we were fast. However, I think it was the beer that we had before doing the game that gave us some fluid thinking and creativity.

On Sunday I played my last game of 3 for the week. A colleague of mine has a slight Sherlock Holmes obsession (the BBC TV series and not the Arthur Conan Doyle books) and when I mentioned that there was a Sherlock room, her face lit up like it was Christmas. So I agreed to join her and her husband. The premise of the game was that Sherlock had gone missing and John Watson needs you help to find out where he is.

Using the clues in the room you have to book Watson a flight to the right location, date and time so that he can go and help Sherlock. This was the most hi-tech room I have ever played. We had to make QR code (though I am still not 100% sure what they are) and soundwaves to uncover a message. There was even a printer in the room so that we could use an iPad to print off the ticket for Watson.

The problem with this room was that it was hard. I mean hard as in only 10% of groups make it out in under an hour. We were up against it. We did take a few clues and some of the tasks really were difficult but we managed it! I was so happy – what a team! The best part was that we got out of the room and went to the reception. We stood there for a few minutes because the employees were busy with other customers. When one of the customers noticed us stood there, he looked like he had seen a ghost. I guess that he had already judged that we would not be part of the 10% who make it out. I am know considering applying to MI5 but I am not sure successfully escaping a room will be counted as necessary work experience.

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A slight sense of impending doom 

28 Jun

Slowly, but surely, I am starting to feel a sense of dread; a terrifying sense that I have brought something upon myself and now I have to pay for it. I’m talking about my German exam which I will be taking in less than 11 days.

It seems like a strange comparison but it feels a bit like booking a holiday, quite far in advance, and all of a sudden it’s here and you think “Oh, that’s come round quickly!” 

Of course, this is all my fault because I signed up for the exam free willingly. The one reason I wanted to do it was to prove to myself that I am learning and getting better and that my time and money has not been a complete waste.

I’m always nervous before exams, even though I am normally more prepared than the person marking the paper. My worst fear on language exams is the spoken part. On all the other parts (writing, reading, listening) if you don’t know the answer, you can come back to it later or have a guess and no one can see the utter confusion etched on your face. 

Speaking is another matter. With speaking you have to answer immediately and the other person knows if you are making it up or you are not feeling great about what you are saying, just from looking at you. Unfortunately for me, this is how spoken language works. 

In my last exam, I was paired with a man from Spain and his accent was so thick that I really struggled to understand what he was saying. If this happens this time, I am just going to say that I don’t understand and can they repeat it because I can’t handle the stress of guessing what has been said. Thinking about it, maybe it will help me score brownie points from the examiners because they might not be able to understand them either!

From now until the exam, my life is a boring, never-ending cycle of listening to German, reading German, learning German working and practicing test German exams. My brain feeling like it is cooking.

I sound very conscientious but it’s not the whole truth. In actual fact, I have begun to find different activities to occupy myself with and ultimately help me to procrastinate! The bathrooms have never been so clean, the garden is looking very trim and tidy and my jars in the kitchen which keep flour, sugar, rice etc have all been neatly rearranged and filled to an optimal level. It could well be that the house is in a lot better state than my “German” mind by the time of the exam.

In positive news, I have started to write emails in German at work (sometimes of very technical topics) and everyone I sent them to has been very complimentary about my German grammar and language skills. 

Now if the exam could just contain a question about writing an email to a colleague about hedge funds, that would be just great!

Too hot to sleep

25 Jun

At the risk of sounding completely British, which I know that I do from time to time, the weather at the moment is just too hot. After this spell of hot weather surely no one in their right mind can deny the existence of climate change. 35 degrees in June. What is the rest of the summer going to be like? Weather like this means that I can’t sleep and me without sleep is not good news for anyone.

I have tried all different strategies. The first, a classic in anyone’s book, was to sleep with the window open. A grand idea until a mosquito woke me up while it was buzzing around my ear at 2 in the morning. Annoyed I trudge out of the bedroom and go to find the insect repellent. That will do the trick. Only it didn’t. I woke up with 5 bites on my right legs and three on my left wrist. I don’t know what was wrong with the rest of my body that the menace decided not to eat the rest of me.

So I can’t sleep with the window open anymore. I now have fans in the bedroom which I have found make no real difference either. They just tend to circulate the warm air around. Plus, they are loud and keep me awake at night.

Two nights ago in utter frustration, I convinced myself that the living room was actually cooler than the bedroom. (This was after a short period of about 3 minutes when I was on the balcony with my bed sheet in the lovely cool evening air. I suddenly realised that if they can bite me 8 times by coming through the window, advertising myself as night-time-alfresco-all-you-can-eat buffet to the insect was probably not the best idea I had even had.) Of course, the living room was no more cool than the bedroom. The heat is affecting my brain and impairing my ability to make sound judgments. I am not sure what my excuse is for the rest of the year.

thermometer-693852__340Being on holiday when the weather is so hot is no problem. In fact, it is the reason why we book holidays. When we have to cope with wearing business dress and going into the office, it is just not fair. I can’t sleep, think straight and I can’t run outside!

This morning was the first time that I have been able to go running outside because the weather had cooled this morning. I got the trainers on quick and got outside before the mercury was pushing towards 30 degrees again, as it was by the early afternoon.

Of course, there are advantages to weather, such as a BBQ every night, not having to remember to pick up the umbrella before leaving the house in the morning and the washing drying in super quick time. On Friday, it was almost dry before I had even hung it out!

It has just turned nine in the evening here and it is still 25 degrees. I am hoping that the combination of the heat and the run from this morning has tired me out and I will drop off effortlessly tonight but I am not holding out too much hope. It is still too hot to sleep…